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New UCPS focus: 'education is not about just teaching any more'

Jim Shipley, president of Jim Shipley and Associates, works with UCPS principals and directors to demonstrate how they can support the new educational focus called “professional learning communicates” (PLC) from an administrative level.

There is currently a shift in the educational focus within Union County Public Schools. Educators are moving away from simply “teaching” in order to concentrate on “student learning.”

“We’re changing the culture of the classroom,” said Jimmie Quesinberry, UCPS Director of Professional Growth and Quality Standards. “It’s not about how you teach. It’s about what the students learn. It’s sounds like semantics but it’s really not; there is a difference. That’s going to be dramatic for some schools. ”

This focus will be reached through a concept called “professional learning communities” (PLC), which is based on a model designed by noted educator and author on the subject, Richard DuFour.

DuFour’s PLC model focuses on three main principles: learning rather than teaching, working collaboratively and educators holding themselves accountable for results.

“Even if I stand up and deliver a marvelous lesson, but they still don’t know the concepts when we’re through, then what good is the teaching?” Quesinberry said. “Sometimes teachers give up too quickly if they’re focused solely on teaching. If they’re focused on learning, however, they go back and look at interventions so the student doesn’t fail. High-stakes testing has unfairly pigeonholed teachers to try to get through all the goals and objectives. And with so many goals and objectives, that’s nearly impossible for our teachers.”

The second principle (working collaboratively) is a vital component in the equation. “There must be collaboration, that’s why it called a community,” Quesinberry said. “It’s made up of not just the teacher, but of lots of people.”

In order to work collaboratively, PLCs utilize more of the school’s staff in the learning process. “It’s not going to just be this teacher teaching, you’re going to have a lot more people involved,” Quesinberry said. “It may involve the guidance counselor supporting the effort. If there is a particular skill that the student is missing, and there is another teacher who teaches it better, then we make sure the student is matched up with that person. It utilizes National Honor Society students to peer tutor if the student in question doesn’t do well with adult/student relationships.”

In the PLCs, teachers come together to evaluate student data, discuss the progress and challenges individual students may be having and then design interventions for those students. The student is continually reassessed to make sure he is learning the subject.

“It’s an ongoing process of continuous improvement,” Quesinberry said. “The expectation is that all students learn at a high level. If it were my child, then I would expect that from the school. We owe that to all of our students.”

About 40 UCPS educators will go through training the week of Aug. 8, 2011, to study the DuFour PLC model, all part of the Race to the Top criteria. Race to the Top is a competitive federal grant program designed to “encourage and reward states that are creating the conditions for education innovation and reform.”

The federal program aims to achieve significant improvement in student outcomes, including making substantial gains in student achievement, closing achievement gaps, improving high school graduation rates, and ensuring student preparation for success in college and careers.

Several UCPS schools have been utilizing the PLC concepts, but the upcoming training will refine that process of continuous improvement, Quesinberry said.

At the start of the 2011-2012 school year, administrators from Unionville Elementary, Kensington Elementary, Marvin Ridge High School, Waxhaw Elementary, Indian Trail Elementary, Rocky River Elementary, Sun Valley Middle, Marvin Elementary, Parkwood High School, Poplin Elementary and Marvin Ridge Middle will have gone through the DuFour PLC training.

“I think we’re already moving in the right direction, but the professional learning communities will help us move in the right direction faster and more collectively overall,” said Waxhaw Elementary School Principal Cheryl Lawrence. “I think this will get all stakeholders involved at the right level. It will insure that everyone is on board and we’re doing it together. And hopefully, it will continue to increase student performance.”

Jim Shipley, president of Jim Shipley and Associates, worked with UCPS principals and directors in a two-day workshop held at Central Academy of Technology and Arts (CATA) on Tuesday (Aug. 2, 2011) to demonstrate how educators could support the new educational focus on the school system level.

“The ‘Systems Approach for Improvement and Performance Excellence’ guides UCPS schools as we continue to implement aligned continuous-improvement plans for our district,” said Dana Crosson, the UCPS Race the Top Facilitator. “This enables us to systematically plan for learning outcomes versus teaching outcomes and provides a means of accountability to our customers and stakeholders.”

The systematic process will help UCPS align the internal processes and continually evaluate those processes by using a built-in Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) model to ensure learning is taking place in every classroom in UCPS, Crosson said.

“In this manner we can make sure everything is aligned with the strategic plan and all stakeholders and customers – students, teachers and staff alike – are where they need to be to make learning happen,” she said.

Shipley’s two-day workshop also offered insight into how to develop the processes to ensure high student and staff performance is in line with the system’s strategic plan.

Written by: Deb Coates Bledsoe, UCPS Communications Coordinator
Posted: Aug 05, 2011 by Deb Coates Bledsoe

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